Aching muscles after exercise aren’t all bad; after all, they’re a reminder you did something good for your body.
Still, it’s a bummer when you can’t help but wince getting up from the sofa or climbing stairs.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), as the condition is known, can result from activities causing muscles to lengthen while force is applied, i.e. eccentric muscle action, says fitness trainer Sven Seidenstücker.
It can occur, for example, after doing squats with heavy weights or carrying heavy boxes downstairs while moving house.
Any activity that places unaccustomed loads on muscles, or working muscles to the point of exhaustion, can cause DOMS.
In all such cases, there’s microscopic damage to muscle fibres.
To repair it, damaged muscle proteins are broken down and removed, and new proteins are synthesized, explains Seidenstücker, who works at the German University of Applied Sciences for Prevention and Health Management (DHfPG) in Saarbrücken, Germany.
This process is accompanied by mild swelling of muscle tissue, which sensitises pain receptors there.
So you experience pain, muscle hardness, stiffness and restricted range of motion.
To alleviate DOMS symptoms, you need to be patient.
Time is a sure-fire remedy, and it may take a few days.
You can speed up healing by stimulating blood circulation in the affected tissue, says Seidenstücker, for instance, via moderate aerobic exercise such as swimming or cycling.
Gentle massage – by lightly kneading the muscles with a foam roller, for example – can boost blood flow too, he says.
Application of heat or cold can help as well – choose the method you prefer.
If it’s heat, the Hessen State Chamber of Pharmacists in Germany suggests using a cherry-pit pillow or heat patch.
Many heat patches contain capsaicin, an active component of chilli peppers shown to be effective at relieving pain.
If it’s cold you prefer, you can apply a gel to the affected area containing aloe vera, menthol or peppermint oil, for example.
What you shouldn’t do if you have DOMS, on the other hand, is put undue pressure or pull on the muscles.
This means don’t knead them firmly or stretch them strongly.
And don’t do intensive exercise until your muscle soreness has passed. – dpa